Michael Leunig is a prolific cartoonist famous for drawings of ducks, hearts and teapots. But for every cartoon full of whimsy, there’s one to punch you in the guts. On his 50th anniversary of being a professional cartoonist, a drawing of a parent pushing a pram looking at a phone while their child lay behind, unnoticed on the footpath drew a firestorm of outrage. I was hoping that the film would touch on this recent event, but it looks to have been completed prior to November 2019.
Peeling back the layers of this reclusive spirit should result in a fascinating documentary. Frustratingly, Leunig seems to be almost always in control of what he is prepared to reveal, which makes this more of a testimonial to the man’s talents than an intimate portrait of what makes him tick.
Director Kasimir Burgess followed the celebrated artist for a number of years, yet “Just one member of Leunig’s family was available for an interview” – son Sunny Leunig, who appears more than halfway through the film, and says “Michael lives down the end of the street, but I wouldn’t go and knock on his door”.
Burgess relies primarily on on-camera interviews with Leunig himself, plus snippets from old interviews with Leunig from the likes of Andrew Denton, as well as grabs from peers such as Cathy Wilcox and Philip Addams to try and unpack this living national treasure, who wouldn’t attend his inauguration ceremony because he’d have to wear a suit.
And that’s probably at the heart of this film, the idea that Leunig’s unflinching and dogged pursuit of doing things on his own terms has brought success, but at the cost of relationships with wives, children and siblings.
The boy in wonder who never grew up, encouraged by his teacher Joan, as he now sits beside her as she recovers from a stroke, the title is fitting as we only are able to grasp fragments of the man.
The Leunig Fragments 3 Stars – “A Frustrating Work of Art”